After a year off, UTMB returns with one heck of a field for the men’s race. Aside from the competitive depth that’s made the race the most competitive trail ultramarathon in the world in recent years, there’s a trio at the front of the race – François D’haene, Xavier Thévenard, and Jim Walmsley – that will make for a fascinating race at the front.
Of course, what’s made this race is the spectacular setting. A picturesque loop around the Mont Blanc massif from Chamonix in France, through Italy, into Switzerland, and back to Chamonix. Along the way, the runners will traverse 171.5 kilometers (106.5 miles) on a course with over 10,000 meters (32,800 feet) of climbing. While UTMB has expanded into a week with eight races, two of which – CCC and TDS – are themselves among the most competitive trail ultras in the world, UTMB remains the queen race of the festival and the crown jewel of the trail-ultrarunning season.
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Tune in to our live coverage of UTMB starting at 5 p.m. CEST (9 a.m. MDT in the U.S.) on Friday, August 27. You’ll be able to follow all the action right here on iRunFar!
Be sure to check out our in-depth UTMB women’s preview for a look at the women’s race!
The Favorites to Win UTMB
While the 2021 UTMB men’s field is absolutely stacked, in my mind, there’s a big three who have to be the favorites to win this year’s UTMB: François D’haene, Xavier Thévenard, and Jim Walmsley. The defending champ Pau Capell would make it a big four, but he won’t be racing following his knee surgery late last month.
While there’s room for debate, I’m willing to call France’s François D’haene (pre-race interview) the top men’s 100-mile (and slightly less) mountain runner in the world right now… and for some years leading to this point. Why do I say that? Well, there are his three wins in three tries at UTMB in 2012 (when it was weather-altered 105k race), 2014, and 2017. In the past decade, D’haene has started Diagonale des Fous four times – 2018, 2016, 2014, and 2013 — and he’s won each time. He’s got two runs at Madeira Island Ultra Trail (MIUT), winning in both 2017 and 2019. One go at Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji, leading to a win in 2014. More recently, in winning the Hardrock 100 this July, D’haene put on a clinic in lowering Kilian Jornet’s course record by roughly an hour. If there’s any weakness in François’s 100-miler game, it’s at the less mountainous side, as he did take 14th at the less-mountainous-than-his-sweet-spot Western States 100 in 2015, before coming back and taking second behind Jim Walmsley in 15:54 in 2018.
Not far behind D’haene in his mastery of mountain 100 milers is Xavier Thévenard (pre-race interview) who also has three wins at UTMB in 2013, 2015, and 2018. The Frenchman also took fourth at UTMB in 2017 and second to Pau Capell at the most recent UTMB in 2019. Aside from his five strong runs at UTMB, Thévenard has won three different UTMB festival races, CCC in 2010, TDS in 2014, and OCC in 2016. (Xavier, we’re still waiting for your win at PTL!) In 2019, he also won the Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji. Earlier this summer, Xavier DNFed the Lavaredo Ultra Trail while dealing with health issues he’s been battling since last summer.
Despite his game-changing wins at the three most recent Western States 100 (2018, 2019, and 2021), Jim Walmsley (pre-race interview) remains an X-factor at UTMB. Without a doubt, this American has the talent and fitness to win the race. Some would question his true mountain bona fides, but they’ve clearly not seen Jim move in the mountains or followed his many-week annual stretches in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. So, in case you’ve missed it, Jim can fly in the mountains, at least on the sort of terrain he’ll see on the UTMB course. However, to date, Jim’s been mortal in more mountainous 100 milers, taking fifth at UTMB in 2017 before DNFing at Diagonale des Fous in 2017 and UTMB in 2018. Perhaps this mirrors his stumbles in his first goes at Western States (20th 2016 and DNF 2017) before absolutely nailing the race with two-straight course records followed by a third-straight win this year.
More Top 2021 UTMB Men’s Runners
Tim Tollefson (pre-race interview) has had as much success at the UTMB festival of races as any other American man. In order, he’s been second at CCC in 2015 as well as third at UTMB in 2016 and again in 2017. Since then, he’s also placed third at Lavaredo in 2018 before winning in 2019, taken third at MIUT in 2019, and placed fifth at this year’s Western States back in June. He did DNF at UTMB in both 2018 and 2019.
It’s been fun watching the U.K.’s Tom Owens (pre-race interview) smartly move up in his longest race to date (as far as we know) at each of the previous three UTMB festivals, taking fifth at CCC in 2017, 20th at TDS in 2018, and fourth at UTMB in 2019. None of this should be a surprise given his decades-long success in trail running. The only question is, can Owens improve upon that fourth place from two years ago? Like many, he’s not raced much since the end of the 2019 season.
While I believe this will be Dmitry Mityaev’s (pre-race interview) first go at the 100-mile distance, no one should overlook this Russian. He’s run the past two TDSs, finishing third, and then, second, with the course being a 145k with 9,130m of climbing. These performances are no fluke. In recent years, he was second at Transvulcania and on many podiums at Skyrunner World Series races in 2018 as well as second again at Transvulcania and first at Ultra Pirineu in 2019. He was third at the 90k du Mont-Blanc earlier this summer.
Keep a close eye on Hallvard Schjølberg at this year’s UTMB. The Norwegian was fourth at UTMB in 2018 and fourth at TDS in 2019, in what are easily his best ultra performances to date. In his only other run at a UTMB festival race, Hallvard was 28th at UTMB in 2017.
Jordi Gamito’s best ultra performance to date is likely his third place at UTMB in 2018, which was a continuation of his steady improvement in the years that preceded it, such as taking fifth at TDS in 2016 and 10th at UTMB in 2017 among many other solid results. In the three years since, the Spaniard has had many ultra finishes, but he’s had a bunch of DNFs at the biggest events including Western States, TDS, and Diagonale des Fous in 2019 and Transgrancanaria this year. His top finishes over the past three years include a 12th at Transgrancanaria and a seventh at Ultra Pirineu in 2019, and a third at the Val d’Aran 162k this year.
In 2016, France’s Ludovic Pommeret made a massive leap forward in winning UTMB in huge come-from-behind victory. While he’s never quite matched that pinnacle, he’s had plenty of top finishes since then, including a second at Transvulcania and third at CCC in 2017, a fifth at the Trail World Championships in 2018, and a seventh at the Trail World Championships, a third at TDS, and a second at Diagonale des Fous in 2019.
It looks like 30-year-old Gregoire Curmer of France continues his ascent through the ultrarunning ranks. While it’s true that he did finish ninth at the Mont-Blanc 80k way back in 2013, it’s worth looking at his performances at the UTMB festival races: 32nd at TDS in 2015, 15th at CCC in 2016, 17th at UTMB in 2018, and fifth at TDS in 2019. Less than two months after that fifth place at TDS, Curmer won the Diagonale des Fous, where he was 16th in 2016. Like many, he had a quiet 2020 and we are unaware of any races he’s run in 2021.
Ho-Chung Wong of Hong Kong tied for sixth at the most recent UTMB in 2019 after finishing 42nd at the 2016 edition, his only other time running the race. Over the years, Wong has won and put up many top finishes across Asia including a fourth at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k in 2020 and eighth at the race in 2018.
Crowd favorite (or is it personal favorite?), Javier Dominguez of Spain once again returns to UTMB for what we believe is the eighth time, far more than any other men’s favorite in this year’s UTMB. Here’s Javi’s UTMB history: 12th in 2012, third in 2013, 22nd in 2014, fifth in 2016, DNF in 2017, 10th in 2018, and ninth in 2019. Among his top finishes at other races in recent years are a win at Tor de Géants in 2017, a fifth at MIUT in 2018, and a fourth at Lavaredo in 2019. It doesn’t look like Javi has raced much, if at all, in the past two years.
While he’s run TDS at least four times, I believe this will be Pablo Villa’s debut at UTMB itself. The Spaniard won the most recent TDS in 2019, was fourth at the race in 2012, and DNFed in both 2017 and 2018. We’re only aware of Villa having run two ultras since the start of 2020, tying for the win with Pau Capell at Transgrancanaria in 2020 while DNFing at the race this year. He was second at Transgrancanaria in 2019.
France’s Germain Grangier was ninth at the most recent UTMB in 2019 (tying with Javi Dominguez) as well as fifth at CCC in 2018. Earlier at UTMB festival races, he was third at OCC in 2015 and he DNFed CCC in 2017. In recent years, he was third at the 90k du Mont-Blanc and fourth at the Speedgoat 50k in 2019, while he DNFed both MIUT in 2019 and Lavaredo this year.
After four-straight runs at UTMB, the U.K.’s Damian Hall took a break from the race in 2019. However, from 2015 through 2018, he improved from 21st to 19th to 12th before finishing fifth at UTMB in 2018. In recent years, he’s also been seventh at Lavaredo in 2017, sixth at MIUT in 2018, and first at the Ultra Tour Monte Rosa in 2019.
Despite DNFing UTMB in 2017, we see Diego Pazos as a consistent top performer who’ll make a run at the back half of the top 10 at this year’s UTMB. The Swiss runner was fifth at TDS in 2018, fifth at CCC in 2015, and 11th at UTMB in 2014. In 2019, Pazos was second at MIUT, fifth at Transvulcania, and 19th at Diagonale des Fous. Last year, he was sixth at Transgrancanaria.
Skimming Robert Hajnal’s results, the Romanian’s second-place run at UTMB in 2018 is clearly his pinnacle performance. That said, he’s got plenty of other solid results in recent years, including taking fifth at both Lavaredo and Ultra-Trail Cape Town in 2017, 15th at the Trail World Championships in 2018, and fourth at MIUT in 2019. Hajnal’s run UTMB two other times, DNFing in both 2017 and 2019.
With all his success in long trail ultras, Ryan Sandes has yet to nail one at the UTMB festival in three tries. The South African was 21st at CCC in 2017 before DNFing UTMB in 2018 and TDS in 2019. Since winning the Western States 100 in 2017, he’s been second at the Ultra-Trail Cape Town 100k in 2017 as well as 11th at Western States and fifth at the Tarawera 100k in 2019.
It will be interesting to see how Tim Freriks of the U.S. can fare at this year’s UTMB. At his peak, he’s on par with the best in the world. For instance, from May 2017 through February 2018, he won the 2017 Transvulcania, was second at the 2017 Broken Arrow Skyrace 52k, won the 2017 The North Face 50 Mile in San Francisco in a blazing time, and won the 2018 Black Canyon 100k. However, we’ve not heard as much from in the years since. Freriks has run one 100 miler, taking 14th at Western States in 2018. He DNFed Lavaredo in 2019, which may be his only other race much over 100k.
Remigio Huaman will be making his debut at the UTMB festival. In 2019, the Peruvian was sixth at Transvulcania and second at Ultra Pirineu. In much different terrain, he was fifth and sixth at the Marathon des Sables in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
A Frenchman living in Canada, Mathieu Blanchard could challenge for the top 10 at this year’s UTMB. He was 13th at the race in 2018 before taking 10th at CCC a year later. This year, he was eighth at Transgrancanaria and last year he was second at the Tarawera 100k.
Although only 28 years old, Frenchman Aurélien Dunand-Pallaz has solid ultra results going back as far as 2012; however, he may have run his best ultra to date in winning Transgrancanaria this February, although he was also second at MIUT in 2018. Other strong results include a third at Ultra Pirineu in 2017, a 10th at the Grand Trail des Templiers in 2017, and 10th at Transvulcania in 2015. It looks like Aurélien has only attempted one UTMB festival race to date, DNFing TDS in 2018. It also looks like this might be his 100-mile debut.
Swiss runner Jean-Philippe Tschumi is on this list solely by virtue of beating a whole bunch of other runners in this preview in winning the Eiger Ultra-Trail 101k in 2019. In two starts at well-known 100 milers, he’s DNFed Diagonale des Fous in both 2018 and 2019.
We include Germany’s Hannes Namberger here on the strength of his win at Lavaredo less than two months ago. In 2019, he was also 12th at CCC and 10th at Transvulcania.
Still More 2021 UTMB Men to Watch
- Jon Aizpuru (Spain) – Top 2 2016-2019 Ehunmilak Ultra-Trail; 2019 UTMB DNF
- Rémi Berchet (France) – 1st 2019 Endurance Trail des Templiers; 2nd 2019 Échappée Belle – L’Intégrale; 2018 TDS DNF
- Oliviero Bosatelli (Italy) – 1st 2019, 4th 2018, 2nd 2017, & 1st 2016 Tor des Géants; 2nd 2017 100 Miles of Istria
Franco Colle (Italy) – 4th 2021 90k du Mont-Blanc; 1st 2018 Tor des Géants; 3rd 2016 TDS; 2019 UTMB DNF[Updated August 26]
- Regis Durand (France) – 8th 2018 TDS; 20th 2017 CCC
- Luis Fernandes (Portugal) – 8th 2020, 6th 2019, & 8th 2018 Transgrancanaria; 7th 2019 MIUT; 18th 2017 UTMB
- Maxime Grenot (France) – 7th 2019 TDS
- Moisés Jimenez (Venezuela, lives in France) – 16th 2019 UTMB; 10th 2018 TDS
- Harry Jones (U.K.) – 15th 2019 UTMB; 8th 2018 CCC; 4th 2020 Transgrancanaria
- Jantaraboon Kiangchaipaiphana (Thailand) – 5th 2018 Ultra Trail Mt. Fuji; 7th 2017 Vibram Hong Kong 100k
- Ionel Cristian Manole (Romania) – 1st 2021 Val d’Aran 162k; 1st 2021 Ultra Sierra Nevada 97k
- Mario Mendoza (U.S.) – 14th 2019 CCC; 6th 2018 Trail World Championships; 16th 2018 Western States 100
- Andrew Miller (U.S.) – 1st 2016 Western States; 1st 2018 Georgia Death Race; 1st 2020 Beaverhead 100k; 2019 UTMB DNF
- Jérôme Mirassou (France) – 6th 2018 TDS; 2019 UTMB DNF
- Ryan Montgomery (U.S.) – 2nd 2019 Tahoe 200 Mile; 2nd 2019 Brazos Bend 100 Mile (12:59); 2nd 2020 Desert Solstice 24 Hour (154.7 miles)
- Giulio Ornati (Italy) – 11th 2019 TDS; 7th 2021 90k du Mont-Blanc
- Isaac Riera (Spain) – 6th 2021 Transgrancanaria; 9th 2019 Lavaredo Ultra Trail; 10th 2018 & DNF 2019 CCC
- Stefano Ruzza (Italy) – 7th 2018 UTMB; 2017 TDS DNF
On the Entrants List, But Not Racing UTMB
- Pau Capell (Spain) – The 2019 champion is recovering from knee surgery
- Guo-Min Deng (China) – COVID-19 travel restrictions
- Can-Hua Luo (China) – COVID-19 travel restrictions
- Zach Miller (U.S.) – Working his way back from Haglund’s deformity surgery
- Min Qi (China) – COVID-19 travel restrictions
- Andris Ronimoiss (Latvia) – Recovering from injury [Updated August 17]
- Jason Schlarb (U.S.) – Recovering from knee surgery
- Yan-Qiao Yun (China) – COVID-19 travel restrictions
- Jia-Ju Zhao (China) – COVID-19 travel restrictions
Previously, But No Longer on the Entrants List
- Sage Canaday (U.S.)
- Dani García (Spain)
- Gediminas Grinius (Lithuania) – Recovering from meniscus surgery [Updated August 17]
- Scotty Hawker (New Zealand) – Now running CCC
- Paddy O’Leary (Ireland, living in U.S.) – Now running CCC
- Gabriel Rueda (Argentina) – Now running TDS
Jing Liang of China was to run this year’s UTMB, but he perished with 20 others in the 2021 Yellow River Stone Forest 100k tragedy. An incredibly frequent racer, Liang won dozens of ultramarathons in China, including many of the most prominent events.
Call for Comments
- Who would you pick as your favorite to win from D’haene, Thévenard, and Walmsley? Who else has a decent shot to win?
- Who will end up on the podium?
- Which runner do you think may be the biggest surprise in this year’s UTMB?
- Care to give a shout out to a possible top contender who isn’t in this preview?
- Know of anyone in our preview who’s definitely not racing? Leave a comment to let us know.